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The cover of The Rise of Ultraman #1 painted by Alex Ross Image: Alex Ross/Marvel Comics

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Japanese superhero Ultraman barely shows up for his Marvel Comics debut

The Rise of Ultraman #1 is part origin story, part X-Files-style mystery

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The alien superbeing known as Ultraman may not have the Western cultural cachet of other Japanese tokusatsu fare, like Godzilla or the Super Sentai series, from which the Power Rangers were born. But Ultraman has been an enduring popular presence overseas for more than 50 years. A new Marvel Comics series, The Rise of Ultraman, offers an easy entry point for both newcomers and existing Ultraman fans looking for a fresh take on the kaiju-battlin’ hero.

The Rise of Ultraman #1 is more of a teaser of an origin story than one might expect from a first issue. The real action is still to come, as clearly telegraphed in issue #1, which includes multiple “Ultra” stories — I’ll explain later — and some very cute kaiju public service announcements.

Who is making The Rise of Ultraman?

Written by Kyle Higgins, who builds on his experience from writing Boom! Studios’ Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Mat Groom (Self/Made, DC’s Crimes of Passion), The Rise of Ultraman #1 is told in two parts (and a trio of silly PSAs from iconic Ultraman kaiju Pigmon): a main story illustrated by Francesco Manna (Avengers, Tony Stark: Iron Man) and colored by Espen Grundetjern; and a noir prequel inspired by Ultraman progenitor Ultra Q, illustrated by Michael Cho. Artist duo Gurihiru delivers three pages of quirky kaiju insight, also written by Higgins and Groom.

What is The Rise of Ultraman about?

The Rise of Ultraman #1 is almost entirely setup. The book establishes the alien Ultraman’s arrival on Earth, yes, but the focus is on a scientific agency that studies kaiju and a mysterious technology called K-Rays. (You can probably deduce what the “K” stands for, despite the redacted narration in the book.) Like much modern media about big Japanese monsters, the story is primarily about the humans who live in a strange world where those monsters exist. We see very little of Ultraman himself, beyond gorgeous cover art painted by Alex Ross and a next-issue teaser splash page from Ed McGuinness. A 10-page side story about Ultra Q, an homage to The Twilight Zone-inspired monster-of-the-week series that pre-dated Ultraman, helps flesh out the universe.

Why is The Rise of Ultraman happening now?

A ranking USP officer orders the untrained Cadet Fuji to attend his away mission in order to fix his gun on the way, in The Rise of Ultraman #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Kyle Higgins, Mat Groom, Francesco Manna/Marvel Comics

Marvel Entertainment and Tsuburaya Productions announced a collaboration last year to bring Ultraman to new audiences. And why not? Marvel has global appeal, but Ultraman’s primary audience is established in Japan. For many superhero fans outside Asia, Ultraman is a blank slate upon which to tell new superhero stories (and to refresh decades of already-told Ultraman stories for readers who aren’t familiar with the franchise).

The Ultraman franchise has also expanded recently with a Netflix anime series and an upcoming movie from Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno called Shin Ultraman.

Is there any required reading?

You really don’t need to know anything about Ultraman to enjoy Marvel’s new series. The Rise of Ultraman does not appear to be set in the larger Marvel Universe — despite a variant comic book cover depicting Spider-Man perched on Ultraman’s shoulder — and you’ll be introduced to a new cast of characters.

Is The Rise of Ultraman ... good?

I’ll say this: The Rise of Ultraman #1 left me wanting. Particularly more from Ultra Q, the mysterious X-Files-esque kaiju hunters whose arc is set in the 1950s. Since the skyscraper-sized brawls have yet to appear in print as of #1, it’s the allure of Ultra Q and the United Science Patrol — whose motivations don’t quite seem on the up-and-up — that has me anticipating the sophomore issue. But it’s a slow start, and if you showed up for knockdown, drag-out fights between giants, you may also be left wanting.

One panel that popped

A pair of scientists discover a kaiju in a panel from The Rise of Ultraman #1 Image: Kyle Higgins, Mat Groom, Francesco Manna/Marvel Comics

Hey, did I mention that if you like The X-Files this might be your speed?

Correction: This story originally misidentified Pigmon as Bugmon.

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